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The Mission needs a Navigation Center now

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A Department of Public Works employee power washes the sidewalk following an overnight double homicide near 16th and South Van Ness streets on Dec. 18, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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If you are against Navigation Centers, then you are for homeless encampments.

I live next to the site at 1515 South Van Ness Ave., where The City plans to open a temporary Navigation Center so there is a place where homeless people, who are currently sleeping in tents in our doorways, can go. Navigation Centers provide clean facilities to sleep, take showers, store belongings and use the bathroom. They also allow social workers to meet and develop relationships with homeless people in a safe and controlled environment, so they can work together on a plan to exit homelessness.

I consider myself a caring and generous person. Over the years, I have been heartbroken to see many people sleeping on the streets of San Francisco. But lately, I have become increasingly frustrated and angry. I’m concerned for the families and residents in my neighborhood, because the tent encampments in the Mission have become dangerous.

I regularly skip over human waste and used needles littering the sidewalk. People in the encampments sometimes yell at me, and the sheer number of people living on the street by my home can be intimidating.

I’ve heard that some of you, my neighbors, oppose the proposed Navigation Center at 1515 South Van Ness Ave. because you believe it will attract more homeless people to the Mission. I understand the Mission has had to face the greatest burden from The City’s homeless crisis, but the reality is that if we don’t open a Navigation Center, we are accepting things as they are.

Enough is enough.

The definition of insanity is to try the same thing again and again while expecting a different result. The City must take action.

The fact is that San Francisco’s current strategy to deal with hundreds of people sleeping in tent encampments outside our doors is to move people around. There are already encampments at the proposed site and at the park.

Tonight, they are in front of my door; tomorrow, in front of yours. We need real solutions to this crisis for all of us. Don’t tell me you don’t want a Navigation Center on my street, because then you are saying that my neighbors and I, including children, should have to walk over human feces and needles. How dare you tell me we should do nothing when things are so bad?

Today, I believe the Mission should welcome a new Navigation Center in our neighborhood and give it a try for the proposed six to nine months. If it works, I will be the first to advocate that another neighborhood take its turn. We have been begging City Hall to take action on homelessness for many years, and when they finally do, you want to stop them.

It is time San Francisco invests resources in a practical solution that actually solves the problem. I’d be willing to bet that the cost of opening new Navigation Centers dispersed throughout The City is equivalent to the amount the Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Police Department and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital pay each year to deal with street encampments. Let’s stand up for ourselves and for homeless people and show that we can do better as a city.

Carlos Martinez is a neighbor who lives at Shotwell and 25th streets, next to the site of the proposed Navigation Center. He has lived in the Mission for six years.

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